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Jan 2015
Ex Machina, Interviews, Movies  −  By 0 Comments

FILM3SIXTY – Rising-star Alicia Vikander and future Star Wars star Domhnall Gleeson discuss their collaboration on Alex Garland’s Ex Machina.

This year, get ready to see a lot of Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson. The former will star in no less that eight films that will be released across 2015. While Domhnall Gleeson will be making an appearance in the hotly anticipated Star Wars, directed by J.J. Abrams.

Before this though, audiences will see the pair star in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. Garland’s film is not the first time this pair of actors has starred together. In 2012, they appeared together in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina. This time around they are the focus of Garland’s heady sci-fi.

Gleeson stars as Caleb, a computer programmer, who wins a company prize to spend a week with the tech entrepreneur and recluse Nathan at his Alaskan retreat. The purpose of the trip is to test Nathan’s latest creation, a beautiful artificial intelligence named Ava (Vikander).

We spoke with Gleeson and Vikander about reuniting on set and their thoughts on the future of artificial intelligence.

Domhnall, were you shocked the first time you saw Alicia in her bodysuit and make-up as Ava?
DG: Yeah, but it was amazing. The first time I meet Alicia on set was the first day of shooting on the film. We shot our scenes in sequence, so it was walking into the room to all of that strangeness, and I hadn’t seen her move like that before. So all of that as a package was great because you hope they got it all on film.
Alicia, did your ballet training help with the physicality of the role at all?
AV: I think I enjoy working with physicality, so that was either consciously or unconsciously there obviously because of my time at ballet school. I admire actors who are able to be physically chameleons and find new ways of acting with their bodies, and I enjoy finding the physicality for any part I play and getting a direct axis into that role.

Was there anything you could study for the role, like prototypes of moving machines or whatever?
AV: Not really, because this form of technology is still speculative. I did get curious about the subject of the film, and I watched documentaries about artificial intelligences, but more than anything, I went with what instinctively felt right for the character.

The house in the film is quite a claustrophobic space. Would you both describe the feeling of shooting there as quite claustrophobic?
DG: The set designer had the idea of inverting the power roles between my character Caleb and Alicia’s Ava. My character is meant to be the person who can actually walk around and check her out, to see how this thing works and that sense of freedom would be given to the interrogator. And there is this great idea of me being trapped in a smaller observational room, whilst Ava is able to study me, and choosing what to show and how much to reveal. I remember that we shot a lot of the scenes during a heat wave in London; Alicia was in the rubber suit and I was in a glass box with lights being shone on it. This made the set very claustrophobic. This was helpful for me, because when I read the script it felt claustrophobic. Instantly you feel like you were being sucked into the pages and becoming smaller and smaller. You lose all perspective of everything going on outside.

Did it change your views of AI? Did you go in with any preconceived ideas?
DG: A lot of the film is based on Alex’s exploration of the possibilities of A.I.’s. It’s an evolution. We don’t feel bad for the cavemen that we outclassed. Alex mentioned that idea a couple of times, and I do find it all a little scary. It’s a fear of the unknown and a fear of a lack of control; those are two things that are very human.
AV: I think it’s the fact that we are surrounded by technology in our everyday lives but still have no clue how everything works! I just give my life over to it. Some advice that Alex gave me was to start reading more about humans instead of robots. I started to read about the human body and brain function and how it all works. Suddenly I found myself sitting reading about electrodes and dopamine’s and hormones, exploring ideas about why you fall in love. I began to wonder, if we can already exchange fifty per cent of our bodies with machines for new heart or organ or lung or whatever, at what point does it stop? What happens if it comes to brain functions? Of course we’re not there yet, but it does make you think.
DG: You’re no less human because you’ve got a pacemaker, nor if you have an artificial limb. But at what point does it stop?

What is Alex like as a first-time director?
DG: I had been in two previous movies with him and he was on set, but I wouldn’t call him a first-time director. I had talked to him previously on those films and he was very helpful in creating characters. He cared very much about the film that’s being made and nothing else. There’s no ego to him and he just wants the film to be as good as it can be. There are a lot of dictators in film, but Alex really leaves room for ideas to grow. I think he’s superb, and not just like that with actors but with everyone as well.
AV: My experience with working with Alex was that it was the calmest shoot I had ever been on. Just meeting Alex you immediately feel his calming presence.

You mentioned that Ex Machina was shot chronologically; how did you find this approach to filmmaking?
DG: I loved every second of it.
AV: I never had twelve-page scene before, so getting the challenge to try and make them interesting in one little box was great. Domhnall and I weren’t even in the same room. There’s actually no physicality going on, really, it’s just the distance between us that we were able to play with.
DG: What was really interesting was that when we were on Anna Karenina together, we touched hands and that was it. That was our big moment because they cut all the other scenes out. Now Alicia is behind this glass wall and playing this extraordinary looking human being, and you can really feel that tension in the room and that grows throughout the film. Alicia is a fantastic actor and I feel that we got to push each other for minutes at a time, which is rare in film.
AV: A brilliant thing to have, and something I admire with Domhnall, is a sense of playfulness and an ability to push things in new directions all the time. It’s a way of almost tricking your co-stars by doing something different in your scenes and playing with the subtext.

This is a big year for the both of you. Alicia, how does it feel to have some big films coming out within weeks of each other?
AV: You’re just excited that the films are coming out and going to find an audience. That’s why we make them. And Ex-Machina is a film I’m really proud of.

Universal is releasing Ex Machina in cinemas across the UK on January 24, 2015.

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